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By Sarah Beth Martin
Contributing Writer 

Warrington work will take in all of Allentown at once

Inbound traffic will be maintained, outbound traffic, buses detoured

 

Eric Bilsky, assistant director of capital programs for the Port Authority Transit explains what work will be done on East Warrington Avenue in Allentown and how it will affect residents and businesses.

Construction on the west side of East Warrington Avenue is about to come to an end, but don’t say goodbye to the workers and their trucks just yet.

The heavy machines, detours, alternate bus routes and accessibility issues are moving east—and the move they’re making is a big one.

Come mid- to late-June, roadwork will progress into Allentown, and all of Warrington Avenue from Beltzhoover to Arlington avenues will be restricted to one-lane inbound traffic for approximately 12 weeks.

Six of those 12 weeks will be dedicated to reconstructing travel lanes on one side of the street, and six to the other. Ground will break on the even-numbered side first, the side on which places like Alla Famiglia, Michelle’s Diner and Amsler Pharmacy sit.

So what can folks expect over the next few months? How will construction affect traffic flow, parking, and access to businesses and facilities along the corridor? Are there going to be changes to bus routes and schedules?

These are but a few of the questions the Allentown Community Development Corp. (ACDC) hoped to have answered at its special meeting on Wednesday night, where members of the project team convened to address community concerns.

In his opening comments, Eric Bilsky, assistant director of Capital Programs with Port Authority of Allegheny County, briefly described the past, present and future of the project, a $2.2 million joint effort exerted through cooperation and reimbursement agreement between Port Authority and the City of Pittsburgh.

Mr. Bilsky was joined by a panel of other representatives from Port Authority and crew from Gulisek Construction, LLC, the firm contracted to complete the roadwork. Though no representative from the city was present, ACDC board member Ken Wolfe told residents he would convey any city-related questions to the proper city contacts.

As Mr. Bilsky made clear, the project provides for the rehabilitation of roughly 3,090 feet of pavement along East Warrington Avenue from the Haberman Avenue ramp to Arlington Avenue. The rehabilitation process, he said, consists of working around trolley rails to mill down the existing concrete surface 5.5 inches, laying a one-inch bed topped with 4.5 inches of fiber-reinforced concrete, finishing the surface and saw cutting the new road at regular intervals to prevent cracks and potholes.

Toiling small street segments in turn, this type of work began in front of the Warrington Recreation Center last fall and has since progressed up Warrington, now to cross at its intersection with Beltzhoover Avenue and stretch all the way down to Arlington Avenue in one sweep.

As to why the project is taking on such an ambitious strip of road at one time, rather than in smaller segments like those completed over the past several months, Mr. Bilsky said the decision was made in order to complete the project in the fastest and most efficient way possible.

“With this approach, barring any unforeseen circumstances or bad weather, the project should be done by the beginning of the school year,” Mr. Bilsky asserted.

Speaking more of the school year, Mr. Bilsky said it was advantageous to complete this leg of the project during the summer months, as there is far less school bus traffic at that time.

But, even though there aren’t a lot of school buses out during the summer, there are still a lot of cars, Port Authority buses and other vehicles hitting the streets—and the effects on these traffic patterns were major talking points at Wednesday’s meeting.

“No matter which side of the street we’re working on, traffic on Warrington will always be traveling toward the city,” said Liza Fuller, Port Authority civil engineer and Warrington Avenue project manager. “Detours will be provided for traffic traveling in the other direction.”

Orange signs, cones and other alerts will be planted along the streets to indicate the detour route, which will run along other main streets as well as back streets. Gulisek crew members will direct traffic when necessary and/or appropriate. When asked if police officers could direct traffic instead, Mr. Bilsky said a police presence was a last resort.

“Our first method is to see if the detours work and, if not, to change them,” Mr. Bilsky noted. “We don’t usually involve the police unless there is a major problem or safety concern.”

According to Port Authority detour specialist Chuck Rompala, all inbound bus stops on Warrington Avenue will be maintained throughout the project, on whichever side of the street is open. Outbound bus detours, he said, will be slightly different than the detours for cars, to provide temporary stops for all areas currently served by Port Authority.

About outbound service, Mr. Rompala said buses coming up Arlington Avenue from New Arlington, such as the 43 Bailey, will continue up Arlington Avenue, while buses coming from Mount Oliver will take a new interim route.

“As they’re coming up Arlington, we’re going to use Knox, because it’s got a nice wide intersection, an easy turn for the bus operators,” Mr. Rompala explained.

“We’ll put a temporary stop on Knox, just after the turn, continue down Knox, make the right on Charles, then a right on Beltzhoover and a left on Climax. Our plan is to make a right on Curtain, and then the left back onto Warrington to go back down to the Junction.”

Mr. Rompala went on to say, because of the disruption caused by the construction, Port Authority will offer free continuation transfers to those patrons who would rather make a transit connection than walk on Warrington Avenue. The transfer allows commuters to step off of one bus and board another to complete their loop of travel.

Continuation transfers must be redeemed within one hour of receipt.

Though the bus detours may sound complicated to the layperson, Mr. Rompala indicated, based on existing detours, he expects success: “Between the professionalism of our bus drivers and all of you helping us out… by honoring the parking and restrictions so that our buses can swing those turns… our detours have worked very well, and will continue to work very well if we continue to work together.”

But what about those who travel by foot? ACDC president Tom Smith asked the panel where and how pedestrians would be given access to cross the street.

In response, Gulisek project manager Mark Ondecko said existing crosswalks will be utilized by placing handicap-accessible wood ramps over the raw street space. No new crossings will be created, he continued, such creation is prohibited by government regulations.

Access concerns were also raised with respect to vehicles reaching any one of the businesses or facilities on Warrington Avenue. Residents in attendance asked if they would be able to pull into the parking lots of the Allentown Senior Center (where the meeting was held), the funeral home and other destinations, and if Access vans would be able to access those sites.

Mr. Ondecko said the feasibility of access to such points will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Those cases that survive the scrutiny, he said, will be provided a system of temporary access on a limited basis. With one exception, access will be available only during the contractor’s operating hours, so that crew can direct traffic safely over the ramps.

The one exception to this general rule is for church service on Sundays, during which time Mr. Ondecko said access will be provided beyond Gulisek’s typical hours of operation.

To further deal will access issues, and solve potential on-street parking problems the project poses to area residents and business-owners, Mr. Ondecko said he and Project Superintendent Michael Beck will meet with each individual homeowner and business, starting this week, to see what Gulisek can do to accommodate their needs.

As per street parking, Mr. Ondecko pointed out residents on the Rt. 51 side of Warrington used back and side street parking during construction there.

When a member of the audience asked if vacant properties in the area could be used for parking, Mr. Wolfe said he’d look into the matter, to determine ownership of eligible lots and pursue such options with the owners wherever practical.

ACDC board member Jessica Zembower asked the panel if all the info on detours, road closures, bus stops and parking could be put together in a comprehensive, user-friendly format, such as a map or other schematic, to be distributed to the public and/or placed in prominent Warrington Avenue destinations.

Ms. Fuller said she would speak with Port Authority’s design department to see if they can come up with something.

With all that’s being created by the project, there came questions about what could be destroyed.

Mark Trapolsi, owner of Hilltop hallmark Paisano’s Pizza, got nearly as heated as his pizza ovens when discussing with the panel matters of depth.

Without waiver, Mr. Trapolsi expressed his concerns the repaving wasn’t deep enough to bear train weight without causing cracks/potholes and that the curb replacements were not deep enough to provide long-term support for the sidewalks.

To answer the first of Mr. Trapolsi’s concerns, Mr. Bilsky said the load of train-bearing falls on the foundation of the street, which rests some 14 inches below the surface and will go untouched during the project.

Ms. Fuller addressed the second of Mr. Trapolsi’s concerns by assuring him that replacement curbs, which are funded through the city, will not be placed on top of the street. Rather, they’ll be secured at the milling point, which is 5.5 inches below the surface. This depth, she said, will make a huge difference in the structural support of the sidewalks.

Sidewalk replacements consequent of this construction, whether needed now or later, will not be funded by the city, or by any other public body for that matter. Individual property owners will have to take those matters into their own hands, and can do so while workers are already out on their streets.

Mr. Ondecko said businesses and homeowners can contact Gulisek directly (at 724-696-3341) to arrange for a sidewalk estimate or query about private property work.

One gentleman wasn’t so much interested in commissioning new work on his property as he was in having his property returned to the state it was in before the project began. The Warrington Avenue resident said his car shows oxidation from construction chemicals and his home’s exterior is masked in concrete dust and debris from work already done on the lower end of the street. He wanted to know what could be done to remedy these ails.

“It’s not our intent to scatter out and leave damage behind,” Mr. Ondecko told him. “We will leave our business cards behind, and you can contact us to come out and repair any damage we’ve caused.”

Mr. Bilsky joined Mr. Ondecko in this sentiment, telling the audience at-large, “It’s (Gulisek’s) responsibility to make you whole again. Go right to them if you suffer any losses due to their work.”

Once construction is complete on the final segment of Warrington Avenue, Port Authority will run a test train on the rails to make sure all is A-OK. But don’t expect to see trolleys running the rails any more frequently than they already do. Mr. Bilsky said, for the time being, T service on the Brown Line is still suspended and the tracks will continue to function only as an emergency route.

The resurfaced road will have an anticipated life of 12 to 16 years, and will be insured against contractor defect for one year.

 

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